Divinity Not Machines

Read this quote yesterday in a book you will soon be hearing a lot about. The man speaking is named Ambrosio, legendary Spanish cheesemaker, modern-day El Cid, man of the fields.

Consider the chicken. Today we have industrialized animals. A chicken needs to be cheap to be competitive in the marketplace. So the industrial chicken has a life that lasts forty-two days between its hatching and its sacrifice. They flood the chicken with twenty-three hours of light a day so that the chicken constantly feeds, and then they give it one hour of rest. They do this for six weeks, then the chickens are put on a conveyor belt and either gassed or have their heads chopped off and are immediately dumped in scalding water, after which the dead body is sent to market.

On the other hand, the traditional chicken used to take one and a half years from hatching to sacrifice. You would see the chicken every day and speak to her, and you would share with her certain aspects of your own life. The chicken was your friend; she understood you. You loved each other. She knew she was going to have a happy life and tried to give you her best while you gave her yours. She knew her destiny, that eventually she would make a gift of her life to feed your family. But you honored each other. The chicken lived at home with you, and you ate her at home. It was divinity, not machines.

–from The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese, by Michael Paterniti

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17 Comments

Wendy

Didn’t expect it but I cried. My sister has chickens & it’s true, they love her & she them.

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Hayley

Oh my goodness! I am the sister with chickens, and I cried too! I didn’t even see my sister’s comment until now. I don’t think I could eat any of my girls, simply because I only have 6. I know them a little TOO well. While it always seemed cruel how industrial farms raised chickens, having cared for these sweet creatures myself, it now seems just horrifying. They are endearing and very funny. I now know why they are the subject matter for so many cartoons!

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Laura M.

That’s it right there, isn’t it? I have been working on what that quote talks about for a while now. Figuring it out in my mind. I was just talking to some friends last night about how I don’t feel “sad” when I kill a fish to eat but I cried when I harvested a rabbit. (It was my first time.) I grew up eating fish that we often caught. So, maybe I would have a similar dynamic of eating chicken or rabbit that I harvested myself if I grew up with it. Man, it’s hard to get your head on straight about meat once you have been removed from 99% of the process. Much easier to be involved from the beginning, seems to me.
Thanks so much for this quote. It is the best I have seen on the whole meat for food idea. And just to be clear, I am definitely a meat eater. I have just started doing lots more to look into the feelings surrounding meat eating. 🙂
I think it’s Joel Salatin that says something like ‘We aim to give them the happiest life possible and then a quick, clean death.’ Sounds about right!

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Janna

I completely second Laura M.’s thoughts. I’ve been looking for ways I can eat meat with a clean conscience. This is giving me a lot to think about.

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Mary

That’s why I love supporting our community organic farm. They provide happy homes for the chickens and pigs and cows before they are offered to us for our consumption. It’s expensive, though, and it’s tough to do it exclusively while keeping my carnivores happy. It’s worth it to try though.

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Maria Tadic

The way animals are slaughtered these days is the main reason I became a vegetarian. I just can’t do it. I know it’s just a chicken…but the practices in the US are disgusting.

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noreen

Thank you for this. I was recently trying to find a way to explain to my husband why I was willing to spend $20 on a whole chicken from the local meat CSA when I can walk to the local supermarket and buy one for $4 on sale. I never realized how short factory-farmed chickens’ lives were. I’ve been trying to purchase only meat from a local farm for about a year – it is more expensive, but completely worth it, if for no other reason than the respect I have for the lives of the animals.

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Cathy Raabe

The second paragraph made my heart race with frustration. “Happy chickens just waiting to give their lives as a gift to you” really? The chicken may have had a better life in between but it still started in a hachery (where male chicks are tossed into a grinder because they are not useful to us) and ended with a violent death.

In a world with so many alternatives I think we can make better choices. Don’t cloud meat eating with euphamisms. For the environment and the animals’ sake – try veganism.

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Kristin

I agree with the basic concept, but I can’t swallow this:

She knew her destiny, that eventually she would make a gift of her life to feed your family.

The chicken knows and accepts its destiny? Really? I am not opposed to eating meat, but we shouldn’t try to kid ourselves with a romantic story. When we eat meat (whether sustainable or factory), we are eating animals who went unwillingly to their deaths. If nothing else, eating meat should be done with awareness and reverence.

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Jackie

Yes Cathy! Yes Kristin! It is disingenuous to say, “She knew her destiny, that eventually she would make a gift of her life to feed your family.” No, the chicken doesn’t know or accept her destiny. It’s ludicrous to suggest she knows and yet is still your friend the happy chicken. If you have to lie to yourself like this in order to eat meat, it’s time to stop eating meat. It’s killing, not divinity.

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pq

@Kristen, yah I got a giggle out of that line, too, imagining the chicken solemnly placing her little head on the chopping block. “Go ahead, this is what I was born to do!”

@Laura M: I had a second cousin who I met when he was in his 70s. He grew up in the 20s and 30s, and worked on his grandparents farm. He told me the only thing he couldn’t stand was the slaughter, and after serving in the Pacific in WWII, he became a vegetarian AND an animal rights activist–in the 1940s! The man was ahead of his time.

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Dani C

Like other commenters here, I also disagree with the romanticism the author uses to describe the traditional chicken’s role in our food chain. If that bird had a choice it would not choose to give up it’s life to feed us.

The above quote reminds me of an argument for meat eating discussed by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in “The River Cottage Meat Book”. Apparently, others have justified meat eating by reasoning that domesticated live stock allowed themselves to be domesticated over time with the understanding that we would give them food, water and protection from other predators. In return they would give us their wool, fur, milk or lives. I find this hard to accept. No matter how domesticated a chicken, pig or cow may be, it does not want to sacrifice it’s life. It does not thank you everyday for caring for it by then willingly marching to its death on harvest day.

I choose to eat meat and I accept that doing so means an animal who would prefer to live doesn’t get to. I do everything I can to find humanely raised animals that are given fast and clean deaths.

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Nina

As a vegetarian (sometimes pescetarian) who cooks meat for her family, this is why I want that meat to be free range or certified humane. Thank you for posting this.

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